Small quantities of GE canola were grown in Australia for the first time last year, after the NSW and Victorian Governments lifted their moratoria, disregarding the interests of other canola-growing states.
As farmers prepare to plant canola this year, the experiences of Moe and Ross should help them make an informed decision about whether to go down the GE path.
Ross Murray, a third-generation farmer from Saskatchewan in Canada, grew GE Roundup Ready canola for a few years. He found that it did not live up to the hype the biotechnology industry created around it. It also cost more to grow than conventional canola.
"I grew GE canola for the first time in 1998. For the first year, the weed management worked, but the yield was a good 10% less than that of conventional canola," says Ross.
"After a number of years, GE canola became a weed itself that I had to manage in my other crops and use additional herbicides to control."
The only independent trials of GE canola to be conducted in Australia were last year's National Variety Trials from the Grains Research and Development Corporation, results of which were published in January 2009. According to these results, the best yielding GM canola variety consistently produced 9-10% less than the best yielding conventional canola.
“Segregation is impossible. With the adoption of GE canola in Canada, it was everywhere. You could not control it.”
– Ross Murray, Canadian farmer who grew GE canola
Ross warns that the segregation of GE canola from non-GE canola, as is being promised to Australian farmers, is impossible.
"Following the adoption of GE canola in Canada, it was everywhere. You couldn't control it," says Ross.
"In western Canada, you can no longer buy conventional canola – 90% of certified non-GE seed is contaminated with GE material. The biotechnology companies now have an effective monopoly on canola production in Canada and the cost of that patented seed is going up every year."
» Public forums: see the itinerary for the farmers' speaking tour: http://www.truefood.org.au/newsandevents/?events=3